For a majority of the past three weeks, Indiana head coach Tom Allen and his staff have been carefully evaluating players during fall camp.
And midway through August, Allen and his staff outlined a few questions they wanted to be answered by the end of fall training camp. The overarching thread was that Allen was trying to understand Indiana’s identity. He wants to know what they can trust schematically. He wants to know who they can rely on to execute those schemes.
Fall camp is now complete. Two scrimmages are in the books. Although the depth chart and decisions for the season-opener against Iowa in 12 days have not yet been revealed, Allen is beginning to gain more clarity on where his team stands.
“I think you’re getting a good feel for where we hang our hat,” Allen said Monday afternoon. “I’m not going to give away too much for obvious reasons, but, at the same time, I feel like both sides of the ball have had the chance to really elevate themselves in those game-like situations… There’s just a toughness that you have to develop and that’s part of our identity.”
Throughout fall camp, new faces and expected impact players have impressed the staff.
For Indiana, much of its success starts with its defense, like last season. After Indiana’s offense prevailed in the first scrimmage, the defense bounced back last Saturday, with Allen saying that they won the day. As expected, Indiana’s secondary, which lost only Jamar Johnson from last season, led the group on Saturday.
A concern for Indiana’s defense, however, is the line. Most of the unit’s production last season was from Jerome Johnson, who has since gone on to play professionally. Returnees Sio Nofoagatoto’a, CJ Person and DeMarcus Elliot are expected play a major role this season. But three transfers, including two from the SEC, could also potentially fill that production, among others.
First, there’s Jaren Handy, a transfer from Auburn, who’s expected to play the Bull position, a linebacker/defensive line hybrid. Handy, a physically developed 6-foot-6, 255-pound sophomore, spent just one season with the Tigers, appearing in seven games, before coming to IU.
“He’s really flashed (talent) this last week in practice, having multiple sacks on multiple days,” Allen said. “And on Saturday, the same thing.”
Then there’s Ryder Anderson, a 6-foot-6, 266-pound defensive end, who transferred from Ole Miss and was IU’s defensive MVP during spring practice. Anderson also boasts valuable experience, having played in 37 games over his four seasons at Ole Miss.
“Just a big strong, steady, tough, dependable guy,” Allen said of Anderson.
Finally, there’s Weston Kramer, a Northern Illinois transfer, who has emerged as a potential cog in the defensive line. Similar to Anderson, Kramer adds a veteran presence to the group, having played 45 games over four seasons, including a second-team All-MAC nomination last year.
“I think Weston’s really brought something to our team from a work ethic perspective, how hard he plays,” Allen said. “There’s times where I’m like, ‘this kid plays harder than anyone else out there.’”
On the offensive side of the ball, the return of All-American Ty Fryfogle has certainly not been overlooked, but Allen made a point to express his pleasure with the senior receiver. After a breakout campaign last season, it would’ve been easy for Fryfogle to pursue a professional career, but he instead returned to Indiana to take care of unfulfilled goals.
“Some guys, when they get to this point, they’re kind of worried about this, worried about that. He just goes all out. He’s tough. He’ll say anything. He just plays football,” Allen said. “I appreciate his attitude, his leadership.”
Allen was also pleased with how the tight ends have been performing. The headliner is Peyton Hendershot, who, after setting Indiana’s single-season tight end reception record in 2019, saw a steep decline in his production last season. If Hendershot can recapture his former success, quarterback Michael Penix Jr. will have yet another option at his disposal. Matt Bjorson and AJ Barner also have the potential to contribute.
There have also been questions about who will be lining up in the backfield next to Penix Jr., but it was made clear after the first scrimmage that USC transfer Stephen Carr had begun to separate himself. Allen echoed the point again on Monday, saying Carr “continues to pop to me.”
Although there is still much work left, it appears as though some of the pieces are starting to come together for Indiana as the season opener quickly approaches.
“I just feel like we’re getting closer for sure,” Allen said. “We’re not in game week prep yet, we’re close, but tomorrow’s practice is going to be important to continue to build some of these things.”